George Kazuo Kanemasu
Tule Lake

Brick #1991   Wall Location  Column: 99   Row: 35

In the early 1900’s many Japanese men and women migrated to the United States due to the very difficult economic conditions in Japan. Among them was George Kanemasu’s father Goichi Kanemasu who arrived in the US in 1903. George was born August 19, 1912 the oldest of six children one of whom died at birth in 1916. His maternal mother died when he was 5 or 6 years old. George and his brother Wataru, then spent about 2 or 3 years in Japan while their father married his stepmother Hatsu Fujii who raised George and his two brothers Watt and Kingo and two sisters Helen and Toshi in the Hood River OR area.

George completed his schooling in the Hood River/Mosier area and married Tomiko Okamura in 1937. Tomiko was born in Hood River on March 19, 1914 to Jukichi Okamura and Hatsu Terada. George operated a fruit brokerage business in Portland where he and Tomiko lived. They had two children Richard and Edward both born in Hood River, OR. Richard was born in 1938 and Edward in 1940.

In May 1942 all persons of Japanese ancestry living in the western coastal states were ordered by the US Government to evacuate to designated interment camps. George, Tomi and their two boys were ordered to board a train in Portland along with other Japanese families and were transported to Fresno, CA where they were placed in horse barns located at the local fair grounds for their living quarters. The Pinedale Assembly Center near Fresno, CA was a temporary relocation site until more permanent internment facilities could be constructed. They were later transported to northern CA to a desert area called Tule Lake.

In 1943, George and Tomi Kanemasu with two young sons, Richard ( 5 years) and Edward (3 years), were allowed to leave the Tule Lake, CA internment camp for Ft. Shaw, MT. The US government’s permitted them to leave the camp early to produce sugar beets in Montana which would promote the war effort at time in which sugar was being rationed. They were share-croppers on the LE ‘Doc’ Taylor ranch at Ft. Shaw. After a few years of unsuccessful sugar beet cropping, George and Tomi moved to the ‘Fairfield bench/Greenfield Irrigation Project’ on an irrigated farm owned by the Jenkins family. The growing season was too short for sugar beets. One of main cash crops was potatoes. George constructed one of the first large root cellars in the area to store the potatoes. The logs to build the root cellar were hauled from the mountain town of Lincoln near Augusta. The logging was done in the fall and winter. Dick and Ed went to grade school at the two room Crowe School and later to the ‘new’ Crowe School. They walked about a mile to school. Toshie Kanemasu Tanaka, George’s sister, joined them for a short period. She graduated from Simms High School in 1946 and attended beauty school in Great Falls. Fred Okamura, Tomi’s brother, and his family from California joined them on the farm for a few years as well.
Lance was born in Great Falls in 1948. George and Tomi moved to the Rocky Booth farm about 7-8 miles from the Jenkins farm where they occupied the Booth family house and shared-cropped the land including the some of the neighboring farms such as the Rorvik and Swenson farms. In about 1953, they purchased the Marvin Swenson farm. George, Ralph Parker, Tony Beck and Wally Maxwell formed the Ft. Shaw Potatoes Growers Association and built another cellar type building. This allowed the sorting, washing, waxing, packaging and marketing of potatoes across western Montana.

Dick, Ed and Lance graduated from Fairfield High School in 1956, 1958 and 1966. Since the farm was located on a boundary of the Simms and Fairfield School districts, students could opt for Simms or Fairfield High Schools. They went on to graduate from Montana State University. George would often repeat “ No one can take away your education”, a lesson probably learned from his internment experience. In 1960, George and Tomi adopted Dani Jo, daughter of Tomi’s brother, Morris Okamura who suffered from glaucoma. Morris had spent time with the Kanemasu family in Montana. Dani Jo graduated from Fairfield High School in 1974 and graduated Boise State University in 1978 with a degree in Business Administration. In 1979, George and Tomi, sold the farm to Randy Parker and moved to Boise and then to Denver in 1989. Tomi suffered from Parkinson’s Disease for over 30 years and passed away in January of 1998. George was a devoted care giver and passed away in May 2002 at the age of 89.

Dick and Ruth (formerly Ruth Beck) are retired and live in Boise, ID. A son, Curt, lives in the Seattle area with his wife, Robin, and son, Alex. Their daughter, Kelley, passed away in November 2006 after a long but courageous battle against a brain tumor. A grandson, Michael, lives in Boise. Dick was the CEO of Northern Testing Laboratories headquartered in Great Falls.

Ed and Karen (formerly Karen Christenot of Bozeman) are retired and live in Athens, GA. He continues to work part-time for the University of Georgia. They have a daughter, Deborah, who lives in the Washington DC area with her husband, Bob. A daughter, Pam, lives in Kansas City with her children, Erika and Cole. A son, Richard, lives in Atlanta with his wife, Carol and daughter, Avery, and son, Reid.

Lance and Sue (formerly Sue Wigen of Post Falls, ID) are retired and live in Ft. Collins, CO. Lance was an executive with Sun Microsystems. They have a daughter, Jennifer, who lives in Denver with her husband, Blake, and daughters, Isabel and Macie. Their son, Jeff, lives in San Diego with his wife, Sarah, and son, Burke , and daughter, Olive.

Dani Jo married Gary Kurtz in 1998 and had a daughter, Jianna Tomiko in 2002. They reside in Henderson, Nevada. Gary works for City Center and Dani Jo has worked for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel since 1992.

Assembly Centers
  • Pinedale
  • Tule Lake
Brick Donors
  • Edward Kanemasu